Jazz Show No Mercy Against The Short-Handed Lakers

Feb 25, 2021, 12:41 AM | Updated: 12:42 am
Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert defends Los Angeles Lakers forward Montrezl Harrell (Photo by Alex Goo...
Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert defends Los Angeles Lakers forward Montrezl Harrell (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
(Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz pummeled the Los Angeles Lakers 114-89 Wednesday night in front of a national audience.

Led by 18 point performances from Rudy Gobert and Jordan Clarkson, and near triple-doubles from Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley, the Jazz built a second quarter lead against the shorthanded Lakers and easily ran away with the victory in record-breaking style.

Though the Lakers didn’t have either Anthony Davis or guard Dennis Schroder, the Jazz allowed little room for doubt that they were anything but a force to be reckoned with in the Western Conference.

The Inevitable Offensive Massacre

There have been dozens of elite players in NBA history. Truly unstoppable scorers who despite knowing what they were going to do offensively, there was little an opponent could do to stop them.

Michael Jordan’s mid-range and in wizardry. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s skyhook. LeBron James sheer force and understanding of the game. Steph Curry’s unguardable shooting.

And with those players, there was a feeling of inevitability that when they were needed most during a game or season, they would show up, regardless of the gameplan against them.

That’s how the Jazz are playing right now, but it isn’t coming from one superstar in the way those great players could carry their team’s offense by themselves.

The Jazz offense as a whole is inevitable. The opposing defense knows what the Jazz want to do, the opposing coach knows the strategy to stop it, and yet, when they see it face to face, those defenses are helpless on most nights.

The Lakers knew the Jazz were going to hunt threes early in the shot clock, and if you took away the Jazz shooting, they’d find Gobert for dunks in the pick and roll, but when faced with actually stopping it, they looked completely and totally helpless.

“The thing that we’ve talked about is really to take what the defense gives us,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said of the difficulty stopping his team. “So on any given night, the emphasis is on guys reading the situation, reading coverages.”

But the Jazz offense isn’t reading changing coverages on a game-to-game basis. It’s quarter to quarter, minute to minute, and play to play, and the Jazz offense so rapidly adjusts, it doesn’t give their opponent a chance to catch up or find sustained success.

“There are games where Rudy and [Derrick Favors] spend the majority of the night rolling and running and offensive rebounding. And those things don’t always show up in the stat sheet,” Snyder said. “Then there are other times when people are staying with shooters and those opportunities to score are there more for them.”

In the first half, the Lakers attempted to slow the Jazz pick and roll, but gave up 15 made threes in 24 minutes.

In the second half, the Lakers attempted to stick with the Jazz perimeter shooters, and Gobert scored 11 of his team-high 18 points on 5-7 shooting at the rim.

Most teams have an offensive identity built around their best offensive player and a few counter options to supplement the primary attack.

The Jazz primary option may very well be to adjust to what their opponent takes away, and then punish them for it throughout the rest of the game.

Just as Jordan, Abdul-Jabbar, James, and Curry’s offensive brilliance felt inevitable, so too does the Jazz offense as a whole, and like those superstars, figuring out how to stop it might be a lost cause.

Donovan Mitchell’s Growth

Donovan Mitchell has had two of the worst shooting of his recent career the first game after getting named to the All-Star team.

Last year, after earning his first bid, Mitchell hoisted up a miserable 1-12 shooting performance in a 106-100 loss to the Denver Nuggets. The guard ended up with four points, eight assists, five rebounds, four turnovers, and was a team-worst -9 in the loss.

Against the Lakers, in a similar situation, Mitchell opened the game 1-11 from the floor and didn’t hit his second shot of the night until the third quarter. However, instead of forcing tough shots that had little hope of going in, the guard found a way to be more impactful on the game, and nearly ended the Jazz 13-year triple-double drought on national television.

Mitchell would connect on three of his final five shots from the floor, grab a season-high 10 rebounds, and hand out eight assists in the Jazz win. Even better, the Jazz were 19 points better than the Lakers while Mitchell was on the floor, good for second-best on the team.

“I look at this game as kind of similar to the Denver game last year when I made All-Star,” Mitchell said. “I didn’t score I think at one point, but I didn’t do anything else. So for me, it was like, okay, how do I find ways to continue to make an impact?”

In the second half, Mitchell scored nine points, recorded five points and five assists, didn’t turn the ball over, and was a team-high +14 in 13 minutes.

“At the end of the day continuing to play team basketball but also doing anything necessary,” Mitchell said of his impact. “Going out there, whether it’s like I said, defense, assists, rebounds, steals — whatever it may be. Just make my presence felt, not just as a scorer.”

Did This Jazz Win Matter Against These Lakers?

Before this game began, both teams knew it was a potential preview of a Western Conference playoff series between two of the top teams in the West. And yet, without either Anthony Davis or Dennis Schroder. the Lakers wouldn’t resemble the roster they likely roll out in the postseason.

So did this game even matter? I think it did, but maybe not in the way many had hoped.

Truthfully, the Jazz found themselves in a lose-lose situation entering this game as soon as they knew Davis would be out. Schroder is nowhere near as impactful as Davis but is still a full-time starter and the Lakers third-leading scorer, and they are worse when he is off the floor.

Without two starters, and arguably two of their four best players, the Lakers had every excuse to lose this game. While it doesn’t help their season to see them continue to fall down the Western Conference standings, there is an assumption that when the postseason arrives, the Lakers will flip a switch and be back in the conversation as contenders. Therefore regardless of how much the Jazz would or could win by, it came with a caveat.

On the flip side, if the Lakers were to win this game, all assumptions about their ability to flip that switch would be confirmed, and the Jazz would be looked at as pretenders in the Western Conference, especially after their loss last week to the Los Angeles Clippers.

Instead, the Jazz found perhaps the one thing they could do to prevent this game from being a true lose-lose outcome. They pummeled the Lakers so thoroughly for the final three quarters of the game, and they did so by playing their style of basketball, that they proved to a national audience on ESPN that their identity doesn’t change depending on who they are playing against.

On Monday, the Jazz made a franchise-record 28 threes against the Charlotte Hornets. Earlier this year, they hit 25 threes against the Milwaukee Bucks. Against LA, they hit 22 threes while playing suffocating defense against an obviously shorthanded Lakers roster.

There was nothing the Jazz could do in this game to prove they belonged in the same conversation with the Lakers as championship contenders, but they didn’t allow any doubt that they might be to creep in.

And while they may not care if fans across the country do or don’t believe in them, their performance against the Lakers shouldn’t let any doubts creep into the Jazz locker room that they are anything but for real.

So while the game may not be an accurate foreshadowing of what is yet to come, the Jazz can’t be anything but pleased with their performance, and that’s a victory they can fall back on.

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